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Being popular at school pays as an adult, finds Sussex study

People who made many friends in high school earned nearly 11 per cent more than their peers by their late 20s, Sussex research found.

Children who make lots of friends at school go on to earn higher salaries, according to a new study by University of Sussex economists that highlights the long-term financial benefits of being sociable.

People who reported having a high number of close friends in high school – and especially those who were “at the heart of things” - earned nearly 11 per cent more than their peers by their late 20s, the research found.

The findings, presented yesterday (Monday 30 March) at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in Manchester, confirm that the impact of education and school goes far beyond the knowledge that pupils acquire.

The Sussex researchers, Lucia Barbone and Professor Peter Dolton, stress that, while cognitive factors such as intelligence, memory and reasoning are important, other factors such as personality, sociability, charm, energy and motivation become increasingly significant in later life.

“More attention should be devoted during childhood and adolescence to the development of social skills, for example through social activities and clubs,” they say.

Their study, Key Players: High school networking effects on earnings, analysed data from AddHealth –a US survey that follows students from high school to adult life and includes information on their friendship groups and networks.

Even more important than the size of a child’s friendship group was whether they were perceived as a “key player”, with the ability to influence others.

“Being a key player seems to pay back in terms of earnings at adult life,” argue the two Sussex academics. “Social skills cannot simply be defined as ‘having friends’, but include a strategic feature as well. Having social skills means [being] able to connect with other key players inside the network. In some sense, this can be seen as a learning process that one is unlikely to lose in the future.”

This advantage was particularly true for white and male students, as well as for those who went on to earn a relatively low salary. The results therefore have implications for social policy, as they suggest that young people who are less well off have a better chance of escaping poverty if they develop good social skills.

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Posted on behalf of: Economics
Last updated: Tuesday, 31 March 2015